Marijuana dispensary ban finds disfavor in Laguna

LAGUNA BEACH – Medical marijuana dispensaries remain illegal in the city despite a state agency’s vote to reject the ban.

The Coastal Commission asked Laguna Beach to go back to the drawing board and find a way to regulate marijuana dispensaries instead of opting for a citywide ban.

The dispensary ban became part of the city’s zoning code in 2009, which falls under Coastal Commission’s jurisdiction. Since the ban didn’t affect coastal access issues, the commission’s primary focus, the vote last week was expected to be a formality.

Laguna Beach City Manger John Pietig said the city was surprised by the vote, but staff is working to find another way to implement the ban.

“We’re still looking at our options,” he said.

The dispensary ban was included in the Laguna Beach zoning code because it relates to land use and falls under the city’s local coastal program, Pietig said.

“It’s an unusual situation where the Coastal Commission would ever need to approve an ordinance like this on the local level,” he said.

Since local government had approved the ban, and it didn’t present issues to coastal access, Coastal Commission staff recommended approving it.

“We’re not in a position to interpret the legality or illegality of an ordinance that has nothing to do with the coastal act,” said Peter Douglas, executive director of the Coastal Commission.

But six of the commissioners disagreed, citing a desire to bring Laguna Beach’s marijuana regulations in line with other coastal cities and their responsibility to protect residents’ access to medical marijuana as protected by law.

“For communities to not step up and take some responsibility for how their folks can have access, and to push it off onto other communities brings to us a consistency issue that is legitimate for us to look at even though it’s not a directly a coastal access issue,” Commissioner Mark Stone said.

Commissioner Ross Mirkarimi said dispensary bans included patient access and criminal justice issues that the Coastal Commission could not ignore. He said he hoped the vote would send a message to cities to take a harder look at how to regulate dispensaries instead of banning them.

“They’re kicking the can up to the coastal commission to solve a policy problem,” he said.

The Laguna Beach City Council voted to ban medical marijuana dispensaries from all zones within the city in September 2009, citing concerns it would be too difficult to regulate retail sale of the drug effectively. Representatives from local schools also said allowing dispensaries would send the wrong message to children.

Members of the city council said at the time the ban would not limit people from using marijuana as medicine in their homes under the state Compassionate Use Act.

At the Coastal Commission meeting, planning manager Ann Larson reiterated that medical marijuana patients could still grow the drug in their homes or obtain it through a cooperative.

“What we’re in objection to is a retail outlet, storefronts that sell it,” she said.

via : OC Register

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